The first person in the world to be described as a scientist was Mary Somerville (the term being coined by William Whewell in an 1834 review of her book “On the Connexion of the Sciences”). While there were other scientists before her, the word itself was created to describe her. Somerville had a keen interest in the physical sciences, especially astronomy (she was the first person to theorise the existence of the planet now called Neptune as an explanation for perturbations of the orbit of Uranus) and geography, a subject on which she wrote a textbook (1848’s “Physical Geography”, which remained the definitive work well into the Twentieth century).
Of course, a woman would have to have been mad to get involved in the sciences back in the early Victorian era. Perhaps that is why the area near Melbourne that has always seemed to exercise a peculiar fascination over mad scientists of all stripes – the plain between Pearcedale and Tyabb – now bears her name.
Science in that area has a long pedigree, from the pioneering work of Paulos Tyabb (an admirer of Somerville’s work) in the mid-Nineteenth century, to the Ned Kelly-inspired investigation into the bullet-repelling properties of assorted metals by Dick Darlington, the curious genetic experimentations of the science hero Doctor Moonlight in the 1930’s, and the rather less laudable medical experiments of Doktor Heinrich Lantz in the Cold War era.
Today, science seems but little on display in Somerville, but no doubt someone somewhere in a basement or hidden laboratory is pushing back the frontiers of human knowledge, human common sense and human law.
Suburbs near Somerville: